At the Border of Comfort and Boredom
If you're trying to get to the Polar Bar from the entrance to the new restaurant JUNO on Third Avenue, a uniformed doorman with a handsome African accent will escort you to the elevator and press the button for you. You will have missed the gleaming white marble entryway up the block on Cherry Street; it faces a giant pit of a construction site and leads into the new Arctic Club Hotel. At the front desk, stacks of old-fashioned white shirt collars are captured as art under bell jars, and on the walls hang photographs of the white faces of the original members of the Arctic Club—profiteers from the Klondike Gold Rush, a who's who of yesteryear Seattle. In 1916, the club commissioned the building with its famous decorative walrus heads (originally with ivory tusks, which were replaced with a lighter material lest they impale pedestrian's heads in an earthquake). It had a bowling alley, card rooms, a barbershop, and a rooftop garden.
The lobby now houses the Polar Bar, a tribute to stolid poshness that resides at the border of gratifying comfort and eternal boredom. The blue velvet draperies are understated, the wood paneling is left not-quite-highly polished, the elegant pool table requires no quarters, the multiple groupings of upholstered furniture are cushy without overplushness. Globes and maps make subtle repeat appearances. Overhead: miles of crown molding, many cast-plaster medallions, sepia-toned deco light fixtures. The interior design was carried out by the same firm that's interior-designed various Fairmonts, and it feels like a less ostentatious (but equally wealthy) version of the same thing. Two wrong notes: a business-center area equipped with computers, and a camera above the bar with small lights blinking.
At the bar, two young men discuss their golf handicaps. Further down, in front of the elaborate absinthe fountain, two women discuss very little, increasingly loudly, with a stack of bridal magazines on hand. The antique clock on the wall is original, says the white-jacketed bartender: "It doesn't work." Also stuck: the sand in a large hourglass behind the bar. Next to it is an empty graduated cylinder, a tiny ceramic polar bear menacing a tinier white ceramic seal, and a martini shaker shaped like a penguin with a small bucket in its beak. The underside of the bar is glass, cracked and backlit to glow like an iceberg.
Water comes with a slice of cucumber, and cocktails stray into contemporary territory—a sake lemongrass gimlet, a Tazo tea mojito—with mixed results and prices up to $13. Snacks, however—roasted golden beets with herbed feta, bacon, and walnuts; duck rillettes with fig chutney—average around $5 and are quite tasty in an average way. A tableful of rich people orders eight organic beef and lamb sliders, chortling at their good fortune upon the arrival of a full, white tray.
Polar Bar, 700 Third Ave, 340-0340.